We attach memories to things. Looking at something that was once owned by someone we love transports us back to a happy time or to a pleasant memory. Unfortunately, these treasures are usually buried in an attic or placed in a box above our garage because we don’t want to clutter our homes. They usually only get rediscovered only when we are moving or clearing out our storage spaces. We really aren't giving our special memories and our history the treatment they deserve.
People often assume minimalism means not being sentimental, and a lot of times people talk to me as if the only reason minimalism works so well for me is because I’m not sentimental. They take my intentional purging as not being the type of person to hold onto memories. This really couldn't be further from the truth. I'm a very sentimental person.
I get weepy when I’m going through my kids’ clothes that no longer fit, I attach fond memories to the things they happened in or next to. I have the gloves I wore to prom where I fell in love with my now-husband (our story is about as cheesy as they come), and the letters he wrote me when we were dating. But I'm not going to let my memories take away from the intentional atmosphere I want to raise my kids in. For me, a cluttered space means a cluttered life; it means more time spent cleaning and rearranging and less time on the floor building train tracks with my kids and reading stories about unicorns. My memories are sweet to me, but they just aren't worth the new ones I'm making now.
Less does not mean none. Intentional doesn’t mean keeping only what you need in order to continue breathing. However, if you have boxes and boxes full of keepsakes, it might be time to pare down some and keep only what is truly soaked in memories that you can’t bear to lose. Here are some practical ways to help you honor your history and your memories without holding onto clutter.
Consider displaying it. Artwork, a lamp that belonged to your great grandmother, a vase full of buttons that were your mom’s...find a way to display your history. Others will enjoy hearing the stories about where they came from, and you will see it on a regular basis, which is much better than your memories being stored in a box in the garage. After all, what’s the point in holding onto keepsakes if they’re just going to be kept in a dusty box and lugged around with you next time you move?
Put it to use. Maybe you’re keeping a special set of dishes or a vintage necklace passed down to you for a special occasion. Why not use it? Why hold onto it for something special when that probably means forgetting about it completely? Wear the necklace as a statement piece this weekend at church. Donate your current set of dishes and eat off the special set every night. What’s the point in storing them and then passing them on to your kids in a box years from now, never to be used? I think it’s much more special to use things like that.
Capture it forever before you give it up. Sometimes, holding onto something of sentimental value just doesn't make sense. Taking a photo of something special always helps ease the heart when you’re donating it. Recently I was cleaning out my boys’ dressers and I found a tiny tee shirt that had been worn by all three of them, but no longer fit our youngest and needed to be passed on. That shirt sat on top of my dresser for weeks, and my heart hurt every time I passed by it. I ended up putting it back on the baby (it was super snug and hilarious) and taking a picture of him in it one more time. I know I have pictures of all three of my boys in that shirt from the past too, so thinking of that helped me donate it.
Send it to the cloud. If it’s a special piece of paper or artwork you want to save but not display, take a picture of it and upload it to Dropbox or whatever form of the cloud you use. This way, you still have it forever but it’s not taking up your physical space.
Go ahead and keep it. There are some things too precious to get rid of, that may be useful later, and can’t be displayed or put on the cloud. I have kept a red pea coat that my daughter wore when she was a baby. It’s timeless and I know she can use it for her daughter one day. I’ve also kept the ivory dress she wore the day she was dedicated, and the first bow-tie I ever bought my first son, that's been worn by his two brothers as well. Things things are extremely special to me. I know this is breaking some minimalism laws, but these things are too precious to me and I’m okay with having one small box of physical keepsakes.
The problem lies in attaching our memories to items in a way that brings clutter and chaos to our homes. Purging is like a healthy exercise for the heart and soul. It hurts sometimes, but it’s good for us. You are not your things. Your memories are within you, not within your stuff.